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The budgeting process is just starting, but educators make their feelings clear to school board

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - It was standing room only at the April 11 Reynolds School Board meeting as teachers protested possible staff reductions that would boost class sizes. Teachers and staff of Reynolds School District, decked out in red t-shirts, sounded off at a school board meeting Wednesday night after the district warned it might have to cut 38 teaching positions in the next school year because of a $4.3 million budget shortfall.

It was standing room only as teachers strained to hear from out in the hallway at the Wednesday, April 11, school board meeting.

The teachers held signs saying "We Deserve Better," "We are already spread too thin" and "Not loving these 60 hour work weeks."

The board allowed eight teachers and parents to testify, although seven speakers is the usual limit.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Karen Repko, fifth-grade teacher at Alder Elementary School, left, and Becky Fagerberg, third grade teacher at Salish Ponds Elmenetary School, tell the school board how cutting teachers will hurt their students. "I urge you to seek other solutions to our budget shortfall," Becky Fagerberg, a third grade teacher at Salish Ponds Elementary told the school board.

Karen Repko, a fourth/fifth grade teacher at Alder Elementary, choked back tears as she told the board "we are killing ourselves to get this right" with Alder's high needs population of students.

"If you cut 22 teachers (across elementary schools), only a few schools will be greatly affected. Ours will be one of them," Repko said.

The union, Reynolds Education Association, issued a statement Tuesday night that said the district informed all 17 buildings on Monday, April 9, that 38 positions might have to be eliminated.

Enrollment has declined through the last three years, which means the district gets less in state funds to operate as funding is allocated on a per-student basis. It also means some classes are smaller.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Reynolds Education Association president Emily Crum from Salish Ponds Elementary School said teachers understand the budget shortfall must be closed, but said the school board needs to avoid cutting teaching positions.  Reynolds has about 9,949 students, which is 830 students fewer than in the 2014-15 school year.

The budget planning process has just started and budget committee meetings have not yet been held.

"We figured we needed to start early," union president Emily Crum told The Outlook. "Our concern is that they are not giving us options," she added.

"This is the third consecutive year the district has been cutting days, programs and positions," the union said in the earlier announcement. Last year Reynolds saved money by shortening the school year by five days and not paying teachers for those days. There were also other cuts to the budget.

The district said 22 teachers could have to be cut at elementary schools, 11 at middle schools and five at the high school. In addition, one instructional coach position may be eliminated to close the $4.3 million budget gap.

The union, as expressed by the teachers at the meeting, is asking the school board to find savings in other places without cutting staff.

The school board set priorities for the district in January and this exploratory budget and possible staff reductions follow those guidelines. For example, the board wanted to fund 30 days of educational assistants in kindergarten and maintain a full school year and intended to finish buying new reading materials and begin buying some new science books.

The $125 million bond passed by district voters in 2015 cannot be used for teacher/staff salaries or other school operating expenses, but only for building and plant improvements.

Reynolds will hold a series of budget meetings open to the public in the Reynolds High School multipurpose room, 1698 S.W. Cherry Park Road. The 6 p.m. meetings will take place Thursday, May 3; Thursday, May 10; and a third, if necessary, on Thursday, May 17.

The budget is scheduled to be adopted by the board on June 13.

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